London – November arrives with the realisation that we are hurtling towards the year end once more. Anyone organised enough to be thinking about Christmas stocking fillers for that Indie music lover in your life or even Secret Santas could do considerably worse than invest in a copy of Wilderness End by Bearpark. The independent label Albino Two Recordings has championed an end of year gem in this the solo project of Nicholas Hirst, the keyboard player with esteemed London collective, Revere. Hirst takes on the mantle of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist on the record with a little help from his wife, Kat Flint, three Revere band mates and a four-strong brass section. Despite this list of supporting musicians the album comes across as very much Hirst’s own; quite a while in the making, and carefully crafted with a singular vision.
The generous 14-track collection opens with arguably its strongest hand in the shape of “Boxers”, a song that quickly establishes Hirst as a considerable wordsmith with a paralleled keen ear for melody. A gentle acoustic intro hardly prepares you for Hirst’s self-deprecating opening line: “So there I am, a grin, a posture, and a lie”. Smacked in the eye by unexpected love and reeling like a boxer leads to the realisation that “a day that’s spent without you is a waste – a waste and a shame”. Voiced with passion, it’s a brilliantly real and visceral song that sets a particularly high water mark.
Thankfully there is plenty more where “Boxers” leaves off. “All Fall By”, which follows it, picks up pace with piano, bass and drums over a cleanly picked acoustic guitar theme as Hirst plays poetically with the notion of the significance of dreams leading to carpe diem resolutions. He brings in synth and programmed effects to accent dramatic moments and resolves the song in a flurry of fluttering notes over an insistent drone. Vocally Hirst’s earnest yet approachable tenor stretches to falsetto and is coloured with inflections of dialect betraying his Essex roots and more recently, cosmopolitan London life.
A notable feature of Hirst’s songwriting is that he largely eschews the conventional verse-verse-chorus and end-of-line rhyming structure for a writing style more rooted in prose that still fits seamlessly with the music. He tells a story cleverly using internal rhymes and fits it all to song in a strikingly original fashion. Many songs are steeped in the folk tradition although Hirst introduces little twists to the mix like the barrel-house piano on the wistful “What Are We Going To Do?” or the machine-like percussive effects in the muted “Not So Tired”. When he plays it straighter on, say, the gentle “Sleeper Train” the results are equally appealing.
Some songs stand out for sheer atmosphere. The darkly imagined “Crows” is structured like a traditional ballad votive with each verse unveiling signs of unnerving depression, for once lifted, but with an inescapable, tragic denouement. Once more Hirst ratchets up the tension with subtle instrumental changes. There are echoes of Hirst’s parent band, Revere, in the mournful brass arrangement that decorates the tender “Little Black Holes” and in the epic, defiant sprawl of “Turn Around, Take a Bow”. The hymnal quality of Hirst’s songs hits something of a peak in “Battle Hymn for the Republic” with its graphic imagery suggestive of a hollow post-war peace.
Nicholas Hirst took the name Bearpark from the village home of his grandfather in North-East England which he describes as ‘a quiet, windy place between moorland and collieries, where miners were born and no-one goes’. The final song, “Distant Fields” takes up this theme of disconnection; in this sense Hirst’s own ambivalence towards living in London where “it locks us there in bright despair with its little golden hooks” when your heart might be elsewhere: “We’ll live and breathe in distant fields”. It is a fitting conclusion to a record that represents a journey of the heart and the mind. Meanwhile should you ever need a reminder of the power of music to move and inspire, you’ll find it in “Wilderness End”.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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